We often find ourselves asking God for some sort of sign, don't we? By we, I mean me. I ask God for signs. I ask him to let me know if a path I am going down is right, if my desires are in line with his will, if my decisions are just, what I should do, etc. I want to know that what I am doing is based on his will as opposed to my own desires.
I think that God is in the business of giving signs. Lots of them. But very often, they show up as tests. At least, unconventional tests.
Just think about it, when a sign is given in the Bible, often times there is wide room given to the person who is receiving the sign what they are to do with it. The sign is received after a quick test of that person's character in some fashion.
Moses and the burning bush. Exodus 3. Moses sees a burning bush. Hmm, that bush is on fire. But instead of going about his business, he looks at it closely enough to see that it's burning, but not being burnt. At that point he could have still just turned away and went back to the sheep, but it is said that he went in closer to see the strange sight. God's commands to Moses were given once Moses got closer to the bush. God could have easily just spoken directly to Moses without the theatrical sign. But what if the sign was used as a test to see how Moses would react? To see if Moses would explore this strange sight, and be inquisitive, or if he'd just go back to his duties while being content in the daily grind of a shepherd.
Elijah on the mountain. 1 Kings 19. Elijah's out whining to God on the mountain of Horeb, "Oh, your people have rejected your covenant and killed all your prophets. But I'm zealous for the Lord, I'm the only one left and now they're coming after me." Whiner. So God tells him to go stand in the presence of the Lord on the mountain. This is the passage that has the earthquake, a powerful wind, and a huge fire and we learn that God is in the "gentle whisper" or the "still small voice" or the "noiseless noise" that comes after all these big events. And where we take the lesson to look for God in the silences, to be quiet, etc etc. Elijah wasn't quiet. He was whining. A lot. But God gave him the sign anyway. God saw what he was made of by breaking the mountain with a strong wind, shaking it with an earthquake and burning it with fire. At any time Elijah could have said, "OK, screw this noise, God this is dumb." But he didn't. He stuck it out to get his word from God and went through it. God tested his patience and Elijah witnessed his sign.
Fine, Christians don't like OT references, it only counts if it comes sometime after Malachi, so let's go to Paul.
Paul. You know...Paul. Acts 9. So Paul is off to go waterboard some Christians, it's his thing, and as he's headed towards Damascus there is a light from heaven and a voice. This is Paul's big conversion, but it's not just about Paul. Verses 10-19 deal with a disciple named Ananias. He also gets a vision from God...except this one he doesn't like. God tells him to go seek out Saul of Tarsus (you know...Paul). Ananias says no thank you. He knows what Saul is up to. Saul goes around having Christians tortured and killed. It's his job. He's literally paid to do it. He's Saul the bounty hunter. Ananias does not believe the vision. He says back to God, "Um you know he's going to arrest me if I do this, right? Are you sure?" He doesn't trust the sign. But God persists. And Ananias goes through with it...which is good, you know, for us. Ananias did not have to listen to God. He did not have to believe this sign/vision he received. He could have easily "failed" the test because the vision contradicted what he knew about Saul. Ananias could have quite easily done anything other than go to the house where Saul was hanging out being all blind. But he didn't. He followed through, proved his own faithfulness in the process, and helped to fulfill God's plan for Paul and through him just about everyone who ever heard about the Gospel who isn't Jewish.
This happens over and over again in scriptures, these are just the few that have been rolling around in my head today. Constantly when people are given signs, it doesn't look to them so much as a sign. Sure, in retrospect they (or we) can look back at it and say, "Oh, that was obviously a sign from God!!" But we can only say that from our viewpoint now.
At the time, the signs didn't look awesome. They were unknown, seemed like idiocy, or just downright suicidal. But they were signs, words and visions. Only when the person whom they were given to passed the test of proving their character or faithfulness was the actual sign then understood.
Of course, this begs the question: what tests am I going through (or avoiding) that are actually the signs I pray for?
How is God asking me to show what I am made of so I can really understand the prophecy, sign or vision that he wants to give me?
How is he asking you?